The Fairbanks teacher under investigation for making comments described as racially insensitive has responded, telling conservative media outlets this week that her reputation has been irreparably harmed.
A GoFundMe to pay for Connie Gardner’s legal expenses doubled overnight to more than $12,000 by Wednesday morning.
“I am a teacher. As part of a class discussion on ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, my students made the connection to current events, and they asked me questions,” reads the GoFundMe description. “I gave them honest answers. A parent recorded 15 minutes of the conversation and allowed someone else to upload it. I was removed from my classroom and suspended. I am retaining a lawyer to explore my legal options to clear my name.”
The special education teacher told students that some perpetrators of violence are non-white. She called people “thugs” who wear their pants down around their knees. She said it’s safer to comply with police than to run or fight.
The parent watching and recording the discussion as her student participated in the class from home told Gardner that she sounded uneducated and, as a white woman, she could not properly address the topic of police killings.
The YouTube video “Fairbanks Teacher - racist comments and interactions with students, staff, and family member” has had more than 57,000 views. News outlets across the globe, including the Daily Mail, a London tabloid, have published stories about the April 28 class discussion at Lathrop High School. Gardner is on paid leave pending an investigation.
The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District received multiple complaints, according to the director of public relations, about Gardner’s comments on race and police brutality.
Gardner told her side of the story on Newsmax TV, which is broadcast on cable and satellite television, on Tuesday and has given interviews to the blog Must Read Alaska and the online publication Alaska Watchman.
The teacher told cable television host Greg Kelly during an interview on Newsmax that her comments to students were truthful and she feels that she has been defamed by characterizations that the comments were racist. She is planning to fight back.
“I am going to take it as far as I can take it through the court system,” Gardner told Kelly.
Gardner has reportedly taught at Lathrop for the last four years of her 32-year teaching career. She was planning to retire after the school year comes to a close next week.
Gardner told Must Read Alaska that teachers should be concerned about academic freedom and that some teachers will now avoid discussing sensitive topics. Alaska Watchman reported that Gardner stands by her statements and that being honest with her students builds trust. The hybrid class of 15 students involved some in-person students and some online.
Interview requests by the News-Miner, made through the Fairbanks Education Association, were not answered.
Gardner made the comments as the school district is in the midst of hosting diversity, equity and inclusion training for staff. The training is planned to be offered to students next year. The goal is to make schools more welcoming to all.
Contact staff writer Amanda Bohman at 459-7545 or follow her at twitter.com/FDNMborough.